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Accidental Saints – Chuck Rush (11/1/15)

Accidental Saints Finding God in All the Wrong People: All Saints Day, 2015 [yendifplayer audio=39] Exodus 1; Mt. 26:6-13   In Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory, the action moves between children being told of a time of martyrdom in Mexico and the actual events that took place. The children are told a story about a priest that...
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Nicaragua Sunday – 10/18/15

Call to Worship: (Find a volunteer who would like to read) “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.” ONE: Lord make us instruments of your peace MANY: Where there is hatred let us sow love ONE:  Where there is injury, pardon MANY: Where there is doubt, faith ONE: Where there is despair,...
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Follow Me, Follow You 2.0 – Caroline Dean (9/27/15)

“Follow Me, Follow You 2.0”   Mark 8:27-38 September 27th 2015 “Walk with me a while,” Jesus says, “Yes Lord!” the followers say, sliding into familiar formation. On the way, Peter, lost in thought, anticipates Jesus’ next move, “After many miles on the road, Peter ponders, we know your way Jesus.” “We see how you approach lepers instead of recoiling, How you pause...
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Becoming Self-Directed – Chuck Rush (9/13/15)

Becoming Self-Directed 9/13/15 Jeremiah 31:31-35   Deitrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, wrote from a German prison during the end of World War 2, that from now on Christianity would be lived in a world “come of Age”. He saw in Nazism the features of a completely secular society.          His phrase has been...
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Positive Presence – Chuck Rush 9/6/15

Positive Presence 9/6/15 Rm. 12:2, 9; Phil. 2:14-17 Peter Krieger was sitting in the cardiologist’s office after a brush with angina, filling out a questionnaire on his lifestyle for the physician. He was asked to describe the incident that landed him in the office, a relatively benign event, yelling at the umpire at the Jets game until...
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Attentive Listening – Chuck Rush (8/9/15)

Attentive Listening Lk. 10:38-42 Martha and Mary [yendifplayer audio=36]   In the last few months, I’ve read several reflections by people my age writing about adolescence in the 70’s. More than one of them have only a vague recollection of their parents divorcing. What they remember is hanging out in the basement or the rec room, hearing adults screaming...
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Integrity & Betrayal – Chuck Rush (7/26/15)

Integrity and Hypocrisy Luke 22:39-51; Luke 22:54-62   Perhaps you’ve heard, “This American Life” some Saturday on National Public Radio and the host Ira Glass, covering some off beat story that you can’t stop listening to, even though you are sitting in the parking lot at Home Depot. At the very beginning of the show Ira would say...
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Finding God in Unexpected Places: RISE Team Reflections 2015 – Caroline Dean (7/19/15)

Finding God in Unexpected Places: RISE Team Reflections 2015 [yendifplayer audio=35] Reader 1:  Our scripture reading today is from Luke Chapter 14:15-23.  Then Jesus said to those gathered at the leader of the Pharisees house for a meal, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many.  At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to...
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Moral Courage – Chuck Rush (7/12/15)

Real Moral Courage Mark 11:1-10;John 18:33-38 [yendifplayer audio=33] In the real world, you don’t have to look far for examples of moral cowardice. They don’t usually look as pathetic as Saddam Hussein being pulled out of a hole in the dirt or the madman Mommar Ghadafi being dragged from a drain pipe after killing tens of thousands of...
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In the Midst of the Storm – Julie Yarborough (6/28/15)

Mark 4:35-41                                                                         Rev. Julie Yarborough Isaiah 43:1-3a                                                                        Christ Church, Summit, NJ June 28, 2015   In the Midst of the Storm [yendifplayer audio=31] Wow! What a week this has been! We have much to celebrate with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters this weekend with the historic Supreme Court decision on Friday to allow for marriage equality in all fifty...
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Believing as Beloving – Julie Yarborough 4/26/15

1 John 3:16-24 Psalm 25:1-2, 5-6 April 26, 2015 [yendifplayer audio=32] Believing as Be-loving The Apostle’s Creed is a litany recited in many Protestant and Catholic churches, that begins “I believe in the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…” Does it sound familiar? The whole text is found on page...
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Transcendent Love-Easter (4/5/15)

Easter, 2015 Transcendent Love Isa. 43:18-21,25; Mt. 28:1-8; 17 Several years ago, I participated in a year-long discussion with Ministers, Theologians, and Physicist’s on the “The End of the World and the Ends of God”. There is now a book out by that title and it contains many of the lectures by the folks in this group....
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Honest and Real – Chuck Rush (3/15/15)

Honest and Real 15 March 2015 Gen. 3:1-12; Mt. 5:8 Long ago, there lived a King who was particularly fond of gardening. Everything he touched bloomed. In particular, he was very fond of flowers and all through out the palace ground, there were hundreds of beautiful flowers. The King was aging and needed to pick a successor for him....
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Becoming Self Aware – Chuck Rush (3/8/15)

Becoming Self-Aware Isa. 57:15,18,19; Mt. 18:1-4 Football commentator and former player Joe Theismann 1996 when a reporter said that he was a quarterback genius. Said Joe, "Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein." Or Senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh: "I'm going to graduate on time, no matter...
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That We May Be One – Chuck Rush (2/1/15)

That We May Be One Isaiah 40: 21-31; I Corinthians 12:13 “For we are baptized in one Spirit- Jew and Greek. Slave and free, that we may be one in Christ Jesus” Joke about division and chaos… We Americans pride ourselves on our rugged individualism. But we are also the inventers of Big Data that measures us in our...
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I Will vs I Want – Chuck Rush (1/25/15)

I will vs. I want Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20 “Immediately they left their nets”. Wow, sounds like they were really spiritual men, until you read the second time this happened. Jesus sees James and John, his brother, mending their fishing nets with the old man. Immediately they leave the old man, with all the gear still...
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The Committed Life – Chuck Rush (1/11/15)

The Committed Life Mt. 19:13-15; Mk. 1:4-11   Who doesn’t love Christmas? Warm, fuzzy birth… presents all around, egg nog, sweet treats, delicious meals, my scotch after the midnight service is over next to the fire. There is nothing not to like. Even my grandsons are angels for a while. It is wonderful. You may not know that in...
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Fullfilled Time – Chuck Rush (12/14/14)

Advent 3 Fulfilled Time Isaiah 11:1-5; Lk. 1:67-79 Our passage this morning is preceded by a story. Zechariah probably has more in common with us than we know. An urban Jerusalemite, he is visited by an Angel that tells him his wife is going to have a baby. He is not exactly enthusiastic. “Really?” He says. “In...
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Living Gratitude – Chuck Rush (11/16/14)

Living Gratitude Psalm 100:1-5; Colossians 3:15,17 (translation mine) Let the peace of God indwell your hearts. Cultivate a fuller life, living out of your gratitude. And in all that you do and say, give thanks to God through Christ. Gratitude begins with wonder at the fact that we are here, that we are alive in creative connection with...
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Compassionate Attunement – Chuck Rush (11/2/14)

Compassionate Attunement Psalm 138:8,15,16; Mk. 3:1-6 [yendifplayer audio=29] The Gospel of Mark was written about 1800 years before the invention of psychology, so we don’t get the window into the psyche of Jesus like we would if a piece was written about him today. But it is fairly clear that Jesus had an extraordinary empathy with people. So...
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Communal Altruism – Chuck Rush (10/26/14)

Communal Altruism Isaiah 41:10, 17, 4; John 14:16-28 (heavily edited) [yendifplayer audio=28] A word of welcome to our new members today. People send me articles from time to time on the benefits of church and I have good news for you. Church going correlates with a number of virtues. People who regularly attend church are more...
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Divine Forgiveness – Chuck Rush (10/19/14)

Divine Forgiveness Mt. 6 and John 20 [yendifplayer audio=27] In the “Deer Hunter” Robert DeNiro returns from serving in the special forces in Vietnam after being drafted right out of high school. Small steel town in central Pennsylvania, three boys go off to war together. One is tortured so bad during his capture that he is...
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Sermons & Presentations

Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord if you choose, you can make me clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, An Altar in the World, tells a story about a time when she was guest preaching at an Episcopal church in the south. She arrives early to check out the sanctuary & get settled in. She immediately noticed that behind the altar there was a striking mural of the resurrected Jesus, stepping out of the tomb. After greeting a member of the altar guild, a manicured and proper southern lady, Barbara walks up behind the altar to get a closer look at the mural. She says that Jesus looked “as limber as a ballet dancer with his arms raised in blessing…except for the white cloth swaddling his waist, Jesus was naked. His skin was the color of a pink rose. His limbs were flooded with light.”
Barbara felt protective over Jesus with so much skin showing, he is all exposed in such a public place. She recognized the beauty in this painting that in Jesus' moment of transcendence, he remained human, he came back wearing skin. But then she also quickly noticed that something was missing, the wounds in his hands and feet were apparent – though not grotesque. His arms were thin but strong, but then staring at his underarms, she noticed - that Jesus had no body hair! “Beautiful, isn't it?” asked the woman who was polishing the silver. “It surely is that,” Barbara said, “ but did you ever notice that he has no body hair? He has the underarms of a six-year-old and his chest is a smooth as a peach.” And the woman shrank in awkwardness. “Uh, no, um, wow…” she said.

This may or may not have sent me on a Google hunt to find a picture of a hairy Jesus, but alas, in the collective Christian imagination, Jesus is really into hygiene. Seriously though in a majority of these portraits, Jesus skin is silky and “rosey” and white and “hair free.”

And this perfectly manicured Jesus is problematic especially when I imagine Jesus in our gospel reading today. First of all - let's get something straight up front, Jesus was not fair-skinned, which is another sermon for another day. Second of all Jesus most certainly did not have access to spa treatments, sunscreen, or a personal trainer. I mean seriously though it looks like he baths in milk and does mint julep masks every day! And yes, Jesus was crucified, but he looked damn good doing it! The reality is that Jesus was a poor drifter teacher who trudged around in dirt and grim and touched lepers. And who knows, Jesus may have even been uglier or fatter or shorter or grey-haired or balding than our perfect-bodied Jesus! Why would that be such a scandal?

It would be a scandal - because we are generally uncomfortable with our own bodies – we decided to manicure Jesus' body and make it perfect to make us feel a little more at ease about the imperfections and struggles in our own bodies.

So Jesus' messy body – with smelly feet and bad breath and hunger and pain and a couple grey hairs – one day in his travels encounters a man who's body is covered in leprosy. And the man's frail and weak body covered with open wounds throws himself on the dirt ground at Jesus' feet in desperation. And Jesus heals him and restores him to his community. And I need Jesus to have a messy, real body in this scene. Because imagining the rosy pink flesh that is unblemished and perfect touching the broken body of the leper with open wounds just doesn't do it for me. “Rosey-skinned”

And perfect bodied Jesus doesn't fit in this story for two reasons:

1) Jesus' body certainly stands in contrast to our leper friend. The leper's flesh is rotting and open to infection, while Jesus' skin is shiny and new. If Jesus' body in our cultural imagination is perfect, unblemished, without warts or bad breath or hangnails, then we can hold his body at a bit of a distance. And the reverse is also true, Jesus can hold our bodies at a bit of a distance – and he would hold the body of a man with leprosy at a distance.

2) Leprosy is contagious, physically and socially – by touching this man, Jesus risks, pain, brokenness, loss of feeling, loss of limb, being socially ostracized. So when Jesus' body touches this leper – he risks being contaminated with this curse – this social and physical death. He puts his body on the line. And to top it off Jesus risks his own religious authority – if he contracts leprosy, everyone will think that it is his fault- that he deserves this suffering because he has sinned.

And so rosey-skinned-unblemished-no-body-hair-Jesus just doesn't do it for me in this scene. He is too ethereal, too perfect to risk touching a leper. The rosey-skinned Jesus has a special body and he can stand apart from us – he doesn't really get what it's like to be human. The Jesus with body hair, he is on our team, he is vulnerable, he touches lepers. He has skin in the game. He is moved with pity to touch a man who is untouchable.

But here is where the rubber hits the road, (START SLIDESHOW) just like the portrait of Jesus' perfect body we idealize the perfect human body now more than ever, and our relationships with our bodies are so complicated and loaded that we often cope by ignoring our bodies until they scream at us for attention.

Think about the struggles that land in our bodies: Struggles in our sex lives, with body image, with our relationship to food, our ability to balance rest and work, our relationship with other people's bodies, bodies that don't fit quite so easily into nice categories. We have an insidious cultural habit of demeaning and objectifying bodies in order to sell perfume. And don't get me wrong the Christian church has been the worst, trying to control our sexuality, and creating negative images of our bodies to suppress and oppress certain people with shame.

All of these complications and struggles divorce us from our bodies. Like the leper our bodies are fraught with illness – we are the most addicted, overweight, prescribed adult cohort in human history. These sacred vessels created in God's image are at risk of being subsumed by the quest for the “perfect body.” This dichotomy between our own body and the perfect body - divorce us from our bodies – suppress the beauty that we already are for some ideal or we ignore our bodies because they are loaded with shame

So here's the deal – This leper story is a story about isolation. This man is divorced from his own body, and kicked out of his religious, social and familial support system to battle this disease alone. And to top it off he is isolated from God, in their cultural context, this disease is proof that he has sinned before God and is therefore paying penance for his sins in suffering. So this man is left utterly isolated.

Jesus' miracle here is that he restores this man to his own body. When you have leprosy you lose sensation – you lose your connection to your nerves, which can eventually cause loss of limb. And so when Jesus heals him – he now is restored to his own body. This man is also restored unto his community, and they can now begin tending to the wounds of his soul from the pain of social isolation.

Like the leper we need Jesus to restore us to our own bodies and to restore us to authentic communities that can help us heal.

Why are people cast out in our society because of their bodies? Maybe they are too fat, too thin, too old or too young. Maybe they happen to love the “wrong body.” People are isolated because they are differently-abled, or their bodies carry the weight of illness or chronic struggles. We carry shame around in our bodies, not just eating disorders and a distorted idea of what “healthy” bodies look like but the general feeling that we are unaware of our bodies and our connection to God through them.

When we affirm Jesus' imperfect skin, we also need to affirm our own sacred skin. How does our culture try to divorce us from our own bodies? How do we lose touch with the sacred goodness of each unique body that is created in God's image, with one uniform and oppressive definition of “healthy” and “beautiful?”

Here me now when I say, “you are a person of beauty and worth, created in God's image.” How does that mantra change us? How can we develop rituals to remind ourselves of the sacred connection of our bodies and souls and minds? What does cherishing and affirming your body look like for you? Is it a yoga practice or a sport? A good bath, a long walk? Is it a nap or a morning routine?

Jesus says, “This is my body – broken for you”

Jesus body was broken

Our bodies are broken

And yet we celebrate them today as a place of sacredness – that God calls “GOOD.”

A beautiful miraculous gift – these things that we walk around in

These bodies that heal and breathe and walk and sing and dance

These bodies are our spiritual homes

May we gather in communion today with this mantra

“I am a person of beauty and worth – created in God's image”

And may that mantra heal us and draw us into communion with God and each other.